Saturday, June 27, 2015

The Affluent Coast

This weekend presented a dilemma: go for the sure thing or risk it all for an epic paddle? Saturday’s paddle was Fort Wetheril to Newport. Sunday’s paddle was a circumnavigation of Fisher’s Island. My preference was for the Fisher’s Island paddle. It was out of the ordinary and offered plenty of chances for fun. The weather, however, preferred Saturday’s paddle. The forecast for Saturday was OK. The forecast for Sunday was bad with a slight chance of less bad.

On Friday, I had to choose. H, who is very good about making sure I get time on the water, was offering one day of paddling. I either went on Saturday, or I took a chance on Sunday. I wasn’t going to get both…. Play it safe or risk it all?

I like to think I am a risk taker, but I am pretty safe when it comes right down to it. I choose the sure thing. Fort Wetheril to Newport may not be exotic, but it is pretty darn good. There are big channels to cross, rocks to play near, and reefs with crazy waves to surf. In addition, the coast line has some of the biggest, most expensive houses in the country.

We crossed from Whetheril directly over to Newport, just north of Castle Hill. From there we worked our way along the coast to just past Kings Beach. Getting there was relaxing. The conditions were mild. There were some chances to play along the rocks and I took full advantage of them.

At lunch trouble started to develop. One of the paddlers in the group had clearly underestimated the difficulty of the paddle (or overestimated their abilities). This meant we needed to make our way back to the launch without stopping for playtime.

The conditions on the way back were pretty benign. The only trouble spot was off of Brenton Point. The water gets shallow and the wave get steep. Most of the pack took it pretty tight through the slop. A few took it wide with the struggling paddler.

As we made our way back up the coast, we slowed down. The crossing was a little bumpy, but tense. There was a constant worry that we would have to do a rescue in the middle of the channel. Fortunately, we all made it across without incident.

Everything turned out fine in the end. Still it was a situation that was avoidable. The paddle was clearly advertised as a certain level and the conditions were well within the posted level. A paddler needs to be cognizant of their limitations and make smart judgements about their ability to safely participate in a paddle.

I know it isn’t always easy. I struggle with it often. I remember the glory days when I paddled every weekend and was more than able to tackle just about any paddle on the schedule. Now that I am older and don’t paddle nearly as often, I cannot, with confidence, do the same. Sometimes I do let the memory of the glory days cloud my judgment and show up on days that are on the edge of my abilities. To date, I’ve gotten lucky and things have gone my way. Still, I do think about it before showing up. If there is a question, I always consult H and often TM. Being that guy is not fun for for anyone. It is also not safe.

I hope that I will not pull a Brett Farve when the time comes for me to dial down the paddling.

Thursday, June 11, 2015

Blow Hard

I finally escaped the drudgery that was working at MathWorks and took a week off before starting my new gig. Being a dedicated family man, I filled most of the week with chores and other family stuff. I did, however, carve out one day for some kayaking. TM and I planned for a leisurely mid week paddle out of Bay Campus. I was thinking that the outer west passage sounded fun.

Naturally, I got to the beach late. TM was out in the water practicing with his Cetus HV. Since the idea was for a relaxing day, he was gracious. It had also given him time to work out a paddle plan.

The weather was not ideal for doing outer west passage. The wind was blowing up the Bay at a steady clip. Crossing the Bay didn’t seem like the wisest decision. Instead, we planned on paddling south along Bonnet Shores and looking for some surf in the cove.

As we paddled along the bluffs I could feel the wind, but it didn’t impress me as anything troublesome. It made for some nice waves. The more troublesome issue, I thought, was keeping pace with TM in his speedy Cetus. I wasn’t struggling, but I felt like TM was holding back. He denied this.

In the cove we headed straight for the beach to look for surfing opportunities. We were disappointed. There were waves but they were small and not worth the effort.

That left as at a crossroads. We could stay in the cove, have a spot of lunch, and head back to Bay Campus for some practice. Or we could head further south and lunch at the mouth of Narrow River.

TM, foolishly, left the decision up to me. I hadn’t checked the forecast to see how strong the winds were. I also didn’t consider that up until this point in the paddle we had been shielded from the worst of the winds. I wasn’t ready to head back and always enjoyed the paddle down to Narrow River. It always offers up interesting conditions.

As soon as we rounded the point and started heading south along the coast, I knew I had made a terrible decision. We were paddling head first into a steady 18 to 20 knot wind. The waves were big and steep. It wasn’t the worst conditions, but they were not good.

Oddly turning around never crossed my mind. I knew we could both handle it and I figured it was a good test for the Aries. Could I keep up with a strong, skilled paddler in a long boat paddling into a big wind? I also knew that TM would not let me fall too far behind if the answer was not yes.

It was definitely a struggle. But it was no worse than I remember paddling the Q-boat in similar conditions. There were differences. The Q’s clipper bow sliced through the waves. The Aries planing bow rides up and over the waves. The biggest difference I noticed was in how much effort went into keeping on course. The Q, generally, maintained a straight course in the wind. The Aries required constant attention. However, when the Q did get knocked around, it was a bitch to straighten out. The Aries was easily coaxed back into line. As for speed, we managed to average around 3 knots along the stretch.

TM made it look easy while I felt like I was struggling the whole time. I swear that on occasion it looked like he was just out for a leisurely Sunday afternoon jaunt. Again he denies this is true. I am not convinced I could have paddled much faster. I am also convinced that TM had a little speed left in the tank. Regardless, I was pleased with how the Aries performed.

Coming into the beach was an interesting experience. I caught a nice wave in the rip that forms at the mouth of the river. I think I believed that the Aries would magically ride the wave into the beach without me doing anything. Instead, it spun beach into the wave before I could react. I didn’t go over, but it was enough to jolt me back to reality. Getting back in line to land on the beach was one simple sweep stroke. Maneuverability cuts both ways.

After lunch we headed north back to the Bay Campus. It felt like the wind had died down. It was hard to tell though because it was at our backs. You never know how hard the wind is blowing when you are moving with it.

The Aries was in its element with the following seas. It caught even the smallest of waves and was pure joy to paddle. Keeping up with TM was not a concern. Keeping the paddle from being over was a concern. We were back at Bay Campus in no time flat.

We did some boat handling practice before heading to the cars. TM wanted me to try some stern rudder tricks at speed. I nearly flipped over a few times. The stick gained purchase, the stern jumped to the side, and the stick was under the stern.

He also had me try some stern draws. A stern draw is not as natural with a stick as it is with an ice cream scoop. I gave it a go. They turned the Aries without issue and I didn’t catch the paddle under the stern.

We retired to Java Madness for post paddle coffee. The back deck was the perfect place to finish the day. It was a classic end to a classic paddle.

Saturday, June 06, 2015

Chasing the Cetus

The family lucked into an open camp site at Winslow Park in Freeport, ME. The Benders had an extra site and offered it up and we couldn't say no. The park is a hidden gem. Our sites were right on the water, spacious, clean, and level. The park is only a few miles, an easy bike ride, from the outlet Mecca. There is also a huge playground for kids.

In the morning, the women took a ride into town to do some shopping. Bug and I explored the park on our bikes for a little and then hung out at the playground.

The afternoon was set aside for PB and I to do some paddling. PB decided to take out KB’s Cetus MV. It would be a perfect chance to see if the Aries could hang with a real sea kayak.

The wind was picking up, but the bay offered plenty of places to hide. We headed NE past Pumpkin Knob and along the east side of Wolfes Neck Woods State Park. The shore line kept the wind to a manageable level. The water was mostly flat and the paddling was relaxing. It didn’t feel like I was working extra hard to keep up with PB, but we were taking it easy.

We crossed over to Bustins Island. Once we left the shelter of the cove the full strength of the wind made itself know. It was blowing hard and the wrong way to help us crossing back to camp. Once behind Bustins it was mice paddling again, but it wouldn’t last long.

It was a two mile crossing from Bustins back to Winslow Park. The one warning Carl had about the Aries was that it didn’t do well with strong beam winds. This wind was quartering, so not completely beamy. All in all the Aries handled well. I would’t say it tracked well, but with proper attention it didn’t weather cock either. The truth is that the Aries is so easy to turn that it was easy to zag when the wind forced a zig. I did drop the skeg for part of the crossing to take the edge off.

In terms of speed, I did OK. PB and the Cetus definitely had an easier time getting across in the wind, but I’m not sure how much easier. I kept up and didn’t feel like I worked extra hard. When asked, PB said he wasn’t taking it particularly easy on me. We weren’t paddling hard, but I was happy with the Aries performance.

Despite the windy return trip, it was a good day on the water. Casco Bay is a pretty place to paddle and a nice place for a relaxing early season paddle.